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The Future of Work Is Here

Helping employers realize the value of an age-diverse workforce, even during the pandemic

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Jo Ann Jenkins
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced some of the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression, and this has hit older workers especially hard. Before the pandemic, 37.1 million people age 55 and older were in the nation's workforce, a number that had been growing steadily for two decades. But now many who have lost their jobs or been laid off worry if they will ever be rehired or if they can find another job. Yet even during these difficult times, we continue to make progress.

The pandemic has forced us into a grand experiment on the future of work — pushing practices on telework and flexible work forward with unexpected urgency. At the same time, as people live longer and generally healthier lives, they're working longer, giving both employers and employees of all ages the opportunity to reimagine what it means to earn and learn over a lifetime.

At AARP, we see these converging trends of automation and aging as a win-win for business and older workers. Older workers bring important, uniquely human skills that can't be automated, and age-diverse workforces are better at problem solving. Multigenerational teams also perform better. And, they help build a stronger pipeline of talent by providing continuity, stability and retention of intellectual capital.

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The good news for older workers is that many employers agree. This week AARP released a new survey, which found that 83 percent of global business leaders recognize that multigenerational workforces are key to the growth and long-term success of their companies. The survey of nearly 6,000 employers in 36 countries was conducted in the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2020. More than 70 percent of the survey data was collected during the pandemic, a time when millions of older workers in the U.S. and elsewhere are unemployed, furloughed or facing uncertainty in their careers.

Research shows that age-diverse workforces have a positive effect on employee engagement, productivity and the bottom line. It is heartening to see that business leaders around the world recognize this value, even as we've been concerned the pandemic could fuel ageism.

Even though over half (53 percent) of the employers surveyed do not yet include age as a factor in their company's diversity and inclusion policies, the survey found that:

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  • 70 percent favor taking steps to promote unbiased recruitment practices.
  • 3 in 4 (74 percent) would provide training and lifelong learning opportunities for older employees.
  • 2 in 3 (68 percent) would purposefully design mixed-aged teams to leverage the advantages that both younger and older employees bring to the table.
  • Over half (54 percent) are providing more flexible work arrangements, including teleworking.

AARP is committed to working with both employers and older workers to build, support and sustain an age-diverse workforce.

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In 2019, we joined with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum to establish a learning collaborative — called Living, Learning and Earning Longer — to identify standards, policies and practices that reflect an age-diverse and inclusive workforce.

Additionally, through our Employer Pledge Program (EPP), AARP works with companies to help them understand the value of older, experienced workers. More than 1,000 employers have signed a pledge publicly affirming that they are committed to fighting age discrimination, and AARP's job board lists job openings from companies that have taken the pledge.

We're committed to helping employers realize the value of an age-diverse and inclusive workforce, and we will continue to work with them to help ensure that people 50 and older have the opportunity to work as long as they need or want to work. We believe that anyone 50 and older who wants or needs to work should be able to work.

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